Dear Career Coach:
I am a programmer who grew up in India but became a U.S. citizen. Some of my colleagues, who work in adjoining cubicles, also grew up in India, and while we are all fluent in English, we enjoy speaking Hindi occasionally. Our supervisor has asked us to stick to English in the office. Is his request lawful?
BILINGUAL AND BAFFLED
DEAR B AND B:
Many employers prefer workers to speak English except when dealing with non-English-speaking customers, clients or vendors. They say employees who don't speak the other language may feel left out or even ridiculed. But the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission says that absent a valid business reason, English-only rules are discriminatory.
However, court opinions are mixed. In Garcia vs. Spun Steak Co., the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed with the EEOC's stance that English-only rules have an adverse impact on minorities. Because the plaintiffs spoke both English and Spanish, the court saw no harm in requiring them to speak only English at work. (For more information, see www.npelra. org/legal/workplaceenglish.asp.)
I suggest asking your supervisor what prompted her request. If she says you're making some of your co-workers uncomfortable, ask yourself how you'd feel in their shoes, then decide if this is a battle worth fighting.